Globe-trotting tree pests
We often hear about new invasive insects and plants coming from other countries and attacking trees, agriculture and even home gardens, but how do they get here and how can we stop them? It is no secret that globalization has increased the amount of international trade. What the public does not normally see, but plant health inspectors do, are the plant pests hiding in and on cargo, containers and vessels. International standards aim to prevent these unwanted international travelers. One of these standards focuses on wood packaging material used in international trade. It is a critical tool for preventing the spread of devastating tree pests.

What is the plant health threat to North America?
Wood packaging material, such as wooden pallets and crates and other wooden objects, can hide foreign, wood-boring, invasive insects and bring them to North America.When the materials are offloaded or further transported at ports, airports and along railways, these pests can go along for the ride and may find a new home, threatening our natural and urban forest ecosystems.

What is at risk?
Tree-killing pests can devastate our forests, which support millions of jobs and generate billions of dollars annually. They can destroy wildlife habitat, throw ecosystems out of balance, and increase wildfire risk. Their damage can spoil the enjoyment of hikers, campers, anglers, and hunters. In North America’s forest communities, they can force the removal of hundreds of thousands of infested trees. And they can cost industry and government billions of dollars in control and regulatory expenses.

Where does the threat originate?
Two wood-boring insects of great concern—the emerald ash borer and Asian longhorned beetle—come from Asia. Both species spend most of their lifecycles inside of trees.

How do foreign woodborers get to North America?
Wood used in packaging material and wooden products can contain insects at various life stages. When the infested materials arrive in North America, the insects can emerge and establish themselves in our environment.

Almost every kind of international cargo travels on, in or with wood packaging, from mangoes to aircraft engines, from shoes to smart phones. After infested wood packaging enter the international trade system, they can cross oceans and continents and be re-used for months, potentially traveling all over the world.

How has the international community responded?
With billions of pallets crisscrossing the world, wood packaging is a global phytosanitary (plant health) challenge. That’s why in 2002 the International Plant Protection Convention—an international treaty signed by 184 countries and other parties—adopted a guideline known as International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures 15 (ISPM 15), Regulation of wood packaging material in international trade.

ISPM 15 requires wood packaging to be properly treated and marked with an official stamp before it can move in international trade. The stamp certifies that the wood in the packaging was properly treated by identifying how the wood was treated, the authorized manufacturer and the certifying country.

What is NAPPO’s response?
Canada, the United States and Mexico work collaboratively through the North American Plant Protection Organization (NAPPO) and are strong supporters of ISPM 15. In fact, recognizing the problem posed by wood packaging early, NAPPO established a regional standard that led to ISPM 15.

NAPPO has led workshops with representatives from the governments and regional plant protection organizations of many countries in locations such as Costa Rica and China to facilitate and implement ISPM 15.

NAPPO advises how to safely conduct heat treatments for wood and wood packaging to kill plant pests (Science and Technology document ST 05: Review of heat treatment of wood and wood packaging).

 In addition, NAPPO is conducting other projects aimed to address key forest pests of concern to the NAPPO region. For example, it currently has a forestry expert group composed of regional subject-matter government and industry experts working to develop a Science and Technology (S&T) document on “Contaminating organisms on wood commodities” an issue that was raised at the ISPM 15 implementation workshops.

Several members of NAPPO’s forestry expert group also actively participate in the International Forestry Quarantine Research Group, which supports the IPPC Community by addressing critical forestry quarantine issues for the global plant protection community through scientific analysis, discussion and collaborative research.  

 International collaboration and standards are essential to limiting and preventing the spread of invasive insects and pests. Canada, the United States and Mexico are proud of their efforts to curb threats to plant health. Plant pests aren’t aware of international borders, so we all need to keep an eye out for globe-trotting threats that may be hiding in wood packaging, wood products, and their shipping containers, whether travelling by air, land or sea.